The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform released its seventh annual ranking of the 50 state legal systems last week. To the surprise of no one here, the trial lawyers are up in arms.  The American Association for Justice – a.k.a. the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (see story on their name change here) – has beefed up their communications operation in recent years. Their rapid response “war room” put out a press statement last week so rapidly, they forgot to reference the correct data. In fact, their information was so old, they referenced West Virginia as being ranked 49th – something it hasn’t been in four years.

It seems that the entire set of plaintiffs’ lawyer talking points are recycled, tired, and out of step, along with their notion of the actual facts. But we do appreciate the help they bring in drawing attention year after year to our study.

For the record, the ILR Lawsuit Climate study is the most comprehensive examination of the perceptions of senior corporate litigators and legal counsel in corporations nationwide. The average respondent has 19 years of experience in the field, and all who rank the states have specific experience in those states they evaluate.

To answer the trial lawyers, yes, our study is absolutely one of perceptions of people who help to make decisions on where billions of dollars of capital will be invested and hundreds of thousands of jobs are located.

If trial lawyers don’t think the perceptions of these decision makers are important, we can put them in touch with many state governors who are surely interested in these perceptions.

The plaintiffs’ trial lawyers were quick to put out their "pre-buttal" (for the uninitiated, that’s a rebuttal released before they actually saw the study to which they were reacting) full of words like “wrongdoing” and “misdeeds” in their attempt to discredit this study. But the trial lawyers have not been as quick to talk about the actual wrongdoers during a year that has seen some of the biggest trial lawyers in the entire country sentenced to prison for their misdeeds.

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and some of his close associates in Mississippi, Bill Lerach and Mel Weiss, former partners of the presently indicted law firm of Milberg Weiss, are a few of America's most powerful plaintiffs’ trial lawyers who recently have pled guilty for crimes -- Scruggs for attempting to bribe a judge, and the Milberg Weiss lawyers for fraudulent activities related to paying people to be lead plaintiffs in securities class action cases.

Joey Langston, a Mississippi trial lawyer and Scruggs associate who pled guilty in the Scruggs judge bribery scandals was the Mississippi Trial Lawyer Association’s Lawyer of the Year in 2007.

The trial lawyers like to suggest that “big corporate CEOs” are principally the ones who care about lawsuits, and that lawsuits aren't a concern to small business owners. Try telling that to Rollie Haas, Rick Popp, Crystal Chodes or any of the countless small business people who have been victims of abusive lawsuits.

Along with the Lawsuit Climate 2008 survey, we also surveyed business people in Louisiana, Illinois, California and Florida about their feelings regarding lawsuits. These mostly small business owners are overwhelmingly concerned about lawsuits, they say lawsuits factor into most of their business decisions and they'd like to see their state legislators do something about it. But I understand that the trial lawyers will dismiss the "perceptions" of these small business owners as being biased, as well.

For seven years now, the Institute for Legal Reform has conducted this state ranking. It has helped many states understand how their legal climates are perceived by America’s largest employers and creators of economic growth.

While we are pleased that the trial lawyers are helping us get the word out again this year, we welcome them to take a look at the actual facts and consider updating their talking points. In case they need a copy, here’s the link.


Bryan Quigley

Bryan Quigley is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.